“I could go solo. Would that be the right thing to do?”
-Lianne La Havas, “No Room For Doubt (feat. Willy Mason),” 2012
British neo soul singer Lianne La Havas answered her own question Tuesday night with a rare solo show at Berklee’s The Red Room at Cafe 939. Eschewing the denser production of her latest record, Blood, La Havas relied on stunning vocals—she kept upping the reverb, but it was pitch perfect from the start—and propulsive guitar work to electrify the small (and yes, red) room.
Dressed in a gray blazer and white dress shirt, La Havas was quick to forge a relationship with a starstruck audience that, in all reality, didn’t need much convincing; fans had arrived early, strategizing successful ways to sneak La Havas into their selfies as she exited the bathroom.
For her part, she radiated just as much love as the audience. The connection was there immediately.
Contrary to her lyric, “It’s what you don’t do, it’s what you don’t say,” it was the little things that she did do and did say that really forged the connection: toothy “we’re in this together” smiles, physical engagement with toe tapping, snapping, and clapping, and singalongs to Aretha covers.
On her hit “Unstoppable,” she feigned an abrupt ending and smiled mischievously at the crowd, eyes glistening, before diving back in. Her eyes kept glistening all night, just waiting for the appropriate lyric from “Wonderful,” “Remember when you put the stars into my eyes, oh.” And in one of the sweetest and quietest moments of the night, she encouraged the audience to think of their loved ones as she began to play “Good Goodbye,” only the second time performing it live.
Even without La Havas’ encouragement, it was hard not to think about our relationship to the passing of time. She brought us back in time for “I Say A Little Prayer,” and also for “Grow,” where her delta blues fingerpicking evoked spiritual anthems and folk tales of old. On “Ghost,” she sang of the past, “Whenever I called you / I couldn’t say / It was only yesterday / And yesterday’s so far away.”
Her voice is so unmistakably a thing of it’s own, though. There was no confusing it for Aretha, but it’s on its way to a more understated and nuanced form of power. It kept me locked and entranced, and, with time on the mind, I couldn’t help but wish for time to slow down so that I could enjoy the admittedly short show just a bit longer.
But, I’m now counting on it to speed back up so that I see her again soon.